• Britannia Howe
  • Jake Solka
  • Alan Atkins
  • Elizabeth Marsh
  • Bethany Wohrley
  • Jennifer Zheng

Britannia Howe had a big night February 24. She won first place and the People’s Choice Award at the Graduate School’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, and then almost immediately rushed off to lead the dress rehearsal for Legally Blonde, the musical she is directing and which was opening the following night.

“I’m a bit surprised (about winning). I can’t wait to tell my children,” said Howe, an M.F.A. directing candidate, who has a 5-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. “This has been a great opportunity to distill all the research theories that I’ve tried in my practice of directing this production and this thesis project. And it’s really brought to the surface what my goals are as an artist.”

Howe’s presentation, “‘Take It Like a Man,’ Exploring Gender Disparity in the Workplace through the Musical Legally Blonde,” focused on the work she did preparing the cast for a musical that explores feminist themes. And she explained to the audience how she brought the production up-to-date from its debut in 2001.

“This show was written and originally cast by predominantly white actors. So we asked ourselves who is being left out of the story. This led us to cast racially diverse and gender-nonconforming actors in roles that historically they haven’t been considered for to create a sisterhood of different voices,” Howe said. “When working with the actors. I used the rehearsal room as a laboratory using techniques and exercises that freed the actors to physicalize a presence of empowerment.

“… Theatre for social change is a call to action. It demands that we examine ourselves in the mirror. I believe that if we study societal issues like this one and attempt to find a solution through the arts of theater, music, and laughter, it can encourage empathy and stimulate change.” (View her entire presentation at the 29:30 mark in the video below.)

Howe was one of seven graduate students to compete in the sixth annual event that challenges participants to see who can best explain their research to a general audience in 3 minutes or less. Each student was limited to a single static slide and livestreamed their presentations from the location of their choice.

The hourlong competition, usually held before an audience in the Normal Theater, was presented via Zoom for the second consecutive year due to concerns over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. “As you can imagine, this would have been great to be in person and to see everybody, but to do this in a virtual platform, our participants did an excellent job,” Graduate School Director Dr. Noelle Selkow said. “This is one of our signature events that we’re most proud of.”

About 170 people, including President Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Dr. Aondover Tarhule, viewed the competition. Howe received $1,500 in prize money and will move on to compete April 8 in the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools’ contest.

Department of Psychology student Jake Solka won second place and received $500 for his presentation on his research investigating what motivates college students to drink alcohol excessively. (His speech begins at the 16:35 mark in the video below.)

“I’m always in awe of our students and the amazing things that they do. It just goes to show the incredible mentorship that our faculty are providing our students and the opportunities that our students have here,” Selkow said.

The participants were judged on communication, delivery, and organization by a three-member panel comprising Dr. John Baur, professor emeritus of Chemistry and former associate vice president for Research and Graduate Studies; Dr. Jan Murphy, professor emeritus of Family and Consumer Sciences and former vice president for Academic Affairs and provost; and Dr. Diane Wolf ’89, ’92, M.S. ’95, Ed.D. ’15, assistant superintendent of Bloomington Public Schools District 87. The People’s Choice Award was decided by a vote of those watching the competition.

One of the most poignant points of the event occurred after the presentations when Maryna Teplova, a doctoral student whose home country of Ukraine was invaded by Russian earlier that day, played piano for the audience while the judges made their decisions. WGLT radio station General Manager R.C. McBride ’99, who served as master of ceremonies, noted her connection to Ukraine in his introduction of Teploya and thanked her after her performance.

“I’m sure, if we were here in person, you’d be hearing thunderous applause right now,” he said.

The Graduate School organizes the University’s Three Minute Thesis competition—similar competitions are held worldwide—as a way to showcase the wide range of research conducted by master’s and doctoral students at Illinois State. This year’s participants represented the Department of Psychology and the School of Communication in the College of Arts and Sciences; the Department of Agriculture and School of Kinesiology and Recreation in the College of Applied Science and Technology; and the School of Theatre and Dance and the Wonsook Kim School of Art in the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts.

“The intent of this program is to showcase the wide variety and diversity of our students and really showcase what research can be,” Selkow said. “It isn’t always at a lab or mixing chemicals. It can be really in a wide variety of avenues.”